I’m a crisismapper, and I work for the UN. Crisismappers are people who provide online information to responders and communities affected by humanitarian crises. We use social media to do this, and we are very connected and very fast to respond when a crisis happens. A year ago, very few people would have understood what crisismapping is, and 6 months ago few people in the UN would admit to doing it in their spare time, but today things are different.
Like many crisismappers, I started with Haiti, working weekends and evenings with the amazing crowd of developers and mappers at CrisisCamp London. I now work with two of the most active groups: Humanity Road (whose main focus is on helping to inform individuals caught up in crises about actions and resources) and the Standby Volunteer Task Force (which provides humanitarian organisations with categorised and mapped information about crisis-affected areas); other very active crisismapping groups include OpenStreetMap (which provides maps) and Sahana (disaster management tools). Anyone can join these groups – alongside UN people there are also logistics specialists, academics, coders, user experience designers, librarians, homemakers and retirees, all connected by the need to make a positive difference to the world.
Haiti changed the world. With Haiti, we learnt that people anywhere could help provide real-time geolocated information to people responding to and affected by a humanitarian crisis. But with Haiti, we also learnt that crisismapping is only as useful as its connection to those affected communities and responders. We’ve learnt a lot since then, and many organisations have reached out to the VTCs (Volunteer and Technical Communities: the new name for Crisismappers) to help work out what those interfaces should be. FEMA, the Red Cross, Oxfam and local responders have all reached out, but OCHA in particular has been a real star, working with the crisismappers in deployments like the Pakistan floods and including crisismappers in exercises like their Columbia simulation.
And we (the UN) learnt that we can reach more places and resources using social media and connections to online communities that we might ever have dared to hope.
Crisismapping groups are now semi-professional teams, with their own workflows, training and coordination well understood and integrated into the larger humanitarian information picture. And this week, the world changed again. OCHA asked the main crisismapping organisations to support their humanitarian mission in Libya. Since Tuesday, our combined teams have been creating maps, monitoring and mapping media reports and helping to collect 3W information (who, what, where – the map of which organisations are responding to a crisis and the resources that they bring), increasing the number of people available to OCHA by 160, covering 24 hours every day. The crisismappers are awesome, but the real stars today are OCHA, and specifically Andrej Verity and Brendan McDonald, who had the courage to reach out and make this work. Well done chaps – I’ll see you over on Skype!
Sara Farmer is the Chief Platform Architect at Global Pulse.